164: RED CHRISTIANS #16: The peasants of Swabia (1525)

“Welcome to Zingcreed: a Christian /Atheist Manifesto and Blog. Thinking aloud about religion: a personal polemic by Peter Turner, M.A., M.Sc.”


Image: frontispiece of the Twelve Articles of the Peasants of Swabia lifted from “Q” without permission


During the 16th century the German peasants revolted against their Catholic princes, led by such colourful radical Protestant firebrands as Thomas Müntzer and Jan van Leyden.

(See Zingcreed Post “Red Christians #1 Thomas Müntzer 1491? – 1525” [May 2013])

There wasn’t another social upheaval like it until the French Revolution. There was most unrest in the 3 German provinces of Swabia, Franconia and Thüringia, and the the downtrodden peasants of Swabia produced a 12 point programme in 1524 which was quickly adopted by town councils in the ‘liberated zones’. It is simultaneously an appeal to common decency and a utopian Christian charter.
Sadly, the Princes and their mercenaries, backed by  Rome, stamped out these naive, innocent idealists; totally exterminated them. Just a few Anabaptists survived. Just think how different the European mental landscape would have been today if the peasants had got their way.

(see Zingcreed Post “Red Christians # 15: The Anabaptists” [August 2013])

The twelve Articles

  1. First, it is our humble petition and desire, as also our will and resolution, that henceforth we should have power and authority  so that each community should choose and appoint a pastor.
  2. We will that, for the future, our church provost, whomsoever the community may appoint, shall gather and receive the tithe of our corn. from this he shall give to the pastor, elected by the whole community,  a decent and sufficient maintenance for him and his people. What remains over shall be given to the poor of the place, as the circumstances and the general opinion demand.
  3. It has been the custom hitherto for men to hold us as their own property, which is pitiable enough, considering that Christ has delivered and redeemed us all, without exception, by the shedding of his precious blood, the lowly as well as the great. We therefore take it for granted that you will release us from serfdom as true Christians.
  4. Accordingly it is our desire if a man holds possession of running waters that he should prove from satisfactory documents that his right has been acquired by purchase in good faith. But whosoever cannot produce such evidence should surrender his claim with good grace.
  5. It should, moreover, be free to every member the community to help himself to such firewood as he needs in his home.
  6. Our sixth complaint is in regard to the excessive services demanded of us, which are increased from day to day. We ask that this matter be properly looked into so that we shall not continue to be oppressed in this way, since our forefathers were required only to serve according to the Word of God.
  7. We will not hereafter allow ourselves to be further oppressed by our lords. The peasant should, however, help the lord when it is necessary, and at proper times when it will not be disadvantageous to the peasant and for a suitable payment.
  8. We ask that the lords may appoint persons of honour to inspect those holdings which cannot support the rent exacted of them, and fix a rent in accordance with justice, so that the peasants will not work for nothing, since the labourer is worthy of his hire.
  9. In our opinion we should be judged according to the old written law so that the case shall be decided according to its merits, and not with partiality.
  10. We are aggrieved by appropriation by individuals of meadows and fields which at one time belonged to a community. These we will take back again into our own hand unless they have been acquired legitimately.
  11. We will entirely abolish the due called Todfall heriot and will no longer endure it, nor allow widows and orphans to be thus shamefully robbed against God’s will.
  12. In the twelfth place it is our conclusion and final resolution, that if any one or more of the articles here set forth should not be in agreement with the Word of God, as we think they are, such article we  will willingly withdraw the minute it is proved by a clear explanation of the Scripture. For this we shall pray God, since He can grant these and He alone.

The peace of Christ abide with us all.


Blissett, Luther “Q” Arrow books (2000)


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